"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, October 09, 2009

NBC KIPP Piece Based on Jonathan Alter's Fake Numbers

Newsweek's Jonathan Alter is one of the go-to guys on MSNBC who can be counted on to offer the current centrist cynicism with a touch of irony for most all political issues worth the gossip. Alter is smart and somewhat personable, though I suspect his hair shortage has left him a bit bitter. Alter is well-connected, nonetheless, in Washington and knows all the corporate talking points on education, but unfortunately for his readers, that's all he knows on the subject.

Two days ago Caroline Grannam took to task NBC for some inflated numbers they used regarding how many former KIPPsters are in college. Rather than going to the other end of the horse where NBC got their numbers, Grannan went to the horse's mouth, KIPP's home office. Instead of 12,800 students in college, there were last summer 447:
Actually, KIPP runs almost all middle schools and has only been running a few long enough to have their graduates finish high school and go to college. I pinned them down on the number after Newsweek wrote in July 2008 that 12,800 KIPP graduates had gone on to college.

The actual number of KIPP alumni who had started college, KIPP spokesman Steve Mancini said at that time, was 447. Again, that's the number of KIPP graduates who had started college by 2008. (KIPP claims to track them carefully even though of course they're long gone from KIPP by that time.)
I went to the July 21, 2008 Newsweek, and sure enough, there was Alter's shiny pate beside his cheerleading article full of misinformation about KIPP. Here's the clip:
The irony is, we know what works to close the achievement gap. At the 60 KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) schools, more than 80 percent of 16,000 randomly selected low-income students go to college, four times the national average for poor kids. While KIPP isn't fully replicable (not enough effective teachers to go around), every low-income school should be measured by how close it gets to that model, where kids go to school from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and part of the summer, and teachers are held strictly accountable for showing student improvement.
The reason that KIPP "isn't fully replicable," Jonathan, is not because there are not enough good teachers but, rather, there are not enough good teachers who can give up their lives to the total compliance of KIPP's missionary sect. KIPP could not, in fact, operate without the constant infusion of two-year Ivy League temps from Teach for America, untrained neophytes who know less about teaching than they do about the psychological manipulations of Dr. Martin Seligman. This is from a 2008 SRI International study on the five KIPP schools in the Bay Area:

Since 2003-04, the five Bay Area KIPP school leaders have hired a total of 121 teachers. Of these, 43 remained in the classroom at the start of the 2007-08 school year. Among teachers who left the classroom, at four of the schools they spent a median of 1 year in the classroom before leaving; at one school, the typical teacher spent 2 years in the classroom before leaving (32).

SRI researchers found teachers committed but clearly doubtful of their capacity to continue under the stress of 65 hours of school-related work per week (includes 2 hours per night for telephone homework assistance). One veteran teacher told researchers: “The consequence is I can’t do this job very much longer. It is too much. I don’t see any solution with our structure and our nonnegotiables. No one has really presented any way to solve that problem” (35).

And so TFA continues to spend more each year on recruiting new replacement neophytes than it does on training them to teach in KIPP's psychological sterilization camps.

NBC's recent coverage of KIPP had another lie from the same Jon Alter paragraph cited above. Alter puts the percentage of poor kids entering college at 20 percent, whereas the percentage of KIPP kids going to college he puts at 80 percent. This 20 percent figure was parroted in the NBC report. Here is some context for these numbers, which has everything to do with washouts, pushouts, dropouts, and lies outright .
In the SRI study of five KIPP schools in the Bay Area, researchers found that 60 percent of 5th grade students in five Oakland KIPP schools who began KIPP in 5th grade did not finish 8th grade:

Together, the four schools began with a combined total of 312 fifth graders in 2003-04, and ended with 173 eighth graders in 2006-07 (see Exhibit 2-3). The number of eighth graders includes new students who entered KIPP after fifth grade (12).

If, then, the 40 percent of children who survive KIPP from grade 5 through 8 all finish high school, then 30-35 percent of children who began KIPP in fifth grade will eventually go on to college. That would still be an impressive percentage if we were to accept Alter’s claim that, nationally, only 20 percent of poor kids go to college. According to a 2008 report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, however, the percentage of “poor kids” attending college after high school is, in fact, 52 percent, rather than 20 percent as Alter claims:

In terms of family income, 91% of high school students from families in the highest income group (above $100,000) enroll in college. The enrollment rate for student from middle-income families (from $50,001 to $100,000) is 78% and for those in the lowest income group ($20,000 and below) the rate is 52% (p. 7).

A correction or a retraction will be accepted from NBC and from Newsweek.

1 comment:

  1. I e-mailed with Jonathan Alter at the time about those claims. As I recall, he claimed that he hadn't specifically said that 12,400 KIPP graduates had gone on to college, although it's not possible to read his words any other way.

    My blog post on KIPP this week was based on a letter to the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle with an even more outrageously inflated claim, which was printed without question as though it were gospel. (I know that some people assume that any misinformation is acceptable if it's in a letter to the editor, but that's NOT supposed to be the standard.) The newspaper's primary goal is supposedly to not misinform the reader. -- Caroline Grannan